Paddling success requires mental toughness and focus. These qualities are not mutually exclusive. To have mental toughness you must have focus.
How would you rate your mental toughness? If you give up easily or can’t seem to push yourself through a tough workout, this can be the result of a variety of factors. One important factor in becoming mentally tough is developing your focus.
Reaching your paddling goals requires total concentration both on and off of the water. Whether you are a beginner paddler or at the highest levels of performance, if your mind wanders you can easily lose your competitive edge. Not only will your performance decline, but so will the quality of your experience on the water. It’s hard to take pleasure in an activity when you are not fully present.
With busy schedules, invasive technology and constant stimulation, complete focus is difficult to obtain. Paddlers can easily become distracted by a wide variety of external factors. Input from your coach or training partners can also cause you to question whether you are training correctly or how to integrate a new technique.
The possibilities for distraction are endless.
Not too mention the simple fact that we are complicated, cerebral animals with a wide variety of things going on in our heads at any one time. Turning down the internal ‘noise’ and focusing on your training, technique and racing strategies is key to success on the water.
So what’s the best way to turn the volume down?
There is no one correct way to focus and work on mental toughness. The specific methods will vary between individuals and situations. However, there is one key principle that will help every athlete. Successful concentration relies on a present-centered focus where you are totally connected to the current task.
A present-centered focus is one in which all your attention is directed to what is occurring at the present time. So, for instance, in a race, your focus may be on the competitor in front of you, on how your body is feeling, or on the decisions you are making based on this information.
Concentration is the learned skill of fully attending to the task at hand and excluding irrelevant external cues and internal distractions. Internal factors for athletes include self-doubt, fears, expectations, and fatigue.
External distractions may involve heavy traffic getting to a race, paddling in windy and choppy conditions, or equipment problems. You need to be able concentrate in spite of these disruptions. The true test comes when the amount of time you need to stay focused extends beyond your current abilities.
Use This Tool to Create Focus
Meditation and mindfulness practices can have profound benefits for your paddling and overall well being. Practice this meditation exercise before beginning your training each day.
Find a comfortable, quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Close your eyes and narrow your focus to one point or one topic (your breathing, or your paddling technique, for example).
Feel each inhalation and exhalation. Breath through your nose with deep inhalations and exhalations. Count each breath until you reach ten and then start again. Continue this exercise for as long as you can sustain this focus. Once your mind begins to wander, recognize your thoughts and then bring your attention back to your breathing.
The first time you try this you might find it extremely difficult just to count to ten once. Don’t be hard on yourself. Recognize that you are working to develop this new skill and you will improve over time.
There are many great meditation apps and resources to assist in your practice. I like the app, Headspace, as it guides you through easy-to-use meditation routines. Use this app or others to help you on your journey.
The longer you can focus on one point or on one target, the more successful you can be at focusing in mentally tough situations with your paddling. Practice this meditation exercise each day with your paddling and you’ll find you will begin to paddle faster and with more enjoyment.